Illness scare for court staff

2016-08-03 10:07
The notice pinned to the door of C Court at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday.

The notice pinned to the door of C Court at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday. (Ingrid Oellermann)

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Pietermaritzburg high court staff were on high alert on Tuesday for signs of illness after a prisoner collapsed in the cells from an allegedly infectious disease on Monday and later died in hospital.

While unconfirmed, it is believed the illness is a viral and highly contagious form of meningitis.

According to a note pinned to the door leading to the public gallery of the courtroom where the prisoner was on trial from last week, the infection “may be meningococcal septicaemia”.

The note states that early symptoms “include fever (feeling hot and cold) vomiting, muscle pain, calf pain, headache or feeling drowsy/confused”.

“Please visit your clinic or doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms,” the notice warned.

“Individuals who came in close contact with this person (ie closer than three feet for more than eight hours) are advised to take an antibiotic (one tablet of Ciprofloxacin) to prevent the infection. If you did not come into close contact the risk of side effects from the antibiotic may be greater than the risk of the infection,” the note added.

It advises any person who came into contact with the victim or had questions to “visit the Department of Health desk” outside the courtroom.

However, The Witness did not see a desk manned by health officials in the vicinity of the courtroom.

The name of the prisoner who died (a 37-year-old man from Madadeni) is known to The Witness but will not be published until it has been determined whether his next of kin have been told of his death.

He was among 13 accused facing multiple charges including murder and attempted murder, possession of stolen property and damage to property.

Following the death of the accused, the trial was adjourned until Monday in the absence of his co-accused, who it is believed have now been ordered into quarantine until they are cleared of possible infection.

Meanwhile, although some court officials and staff (including the ill man’s advocate Gareth Leppan and state advocate Ncedile Dunywa) were treated with antibiotics, a number of other court employees told The Witness they were afraid they might have been unwittingly exposed to the unknown virus.

Some said they planned to visit their private doctors for advice.

In response to an e-mail query from The Witness, national judiciary spokesperson Nathi Mncube confirmed that an accused in C Court had become ill last Friday “with an infection”.

“When the court manager became aware of what had happened in court she immediately contacted the Department of Health. The doctor and two nurses from the district office of the Department of Health visited the Pietermaritzburg high court. The doctor gave an explanation of the suspected infection and advised that all individuals [court officials] who came into close contact … with the person must take an antibiotic … to prevent the infection,” he said.

Mncube said the court manager “purchased masks for all court staff and they were given antibiotic tablets by the doctor from the Department of Health.”

He added that although they were advised that the suspected infection is not airborne, the court room where the trial was conducted was also disinfected. The Public Servants Association union representative at court had also consulted with the doctor, he said.

However, a number of court staff said they were worried because only a handful of staff members were given antibiotic treatment. “What if we were in contact with a clerk or someone working in that court and now we are at risk?” asked one.

Another source said some staff went out to buy face masks after noticing members of the SAPS task team (who had to guard the court) had been wearing masks from Monday.

“They have not called a meeting of the staff to explain what is going on and whether we are in danger. We should not be taking any risks,” the source said.

KZN Department of Health spokesperson Agiza Hlongwane said late yesterday he was not able to comment on the matter.

KZN Correctional Services spokesperson Thulani Ndluli also had not yet responded to questions sent to him by the time of going to print yesterday evening.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  court  |  illness

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